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Social Media Outlets

 

images-124Social Media Outlets

By Rev. Benjamin P. Glaser

We live in a fluid time of radical change concerning how human beings consume news, talk to one another on a daily basis, and generally interact with the world around them. This brave new world can be intimidating for those without degrees in computer engineering or the kind of on-the-job training that makes your average teenager the Bill Gates of your home. In this article my goal is to help take away this fear, introduce you to some simple and basic social media outlets, and show you that if this technological dinosaur can use social media for his church, you can too.

The number of platforms that deal with what are termed “social media” are vast and complex. I am only going to focus on a couple of the main outlets in order not to overwhelm you.

This really is easy and there is nothing to worry about.

The definition of what makes a place “social media” is changing by the day. As websites become more and more interactive and encourage that contact between users the gulf separating normal websites from those which act as virtual town squares are shrinking. While there are some who question the longevity and standing power of Facebook it still is the first platform that comes to most minds when discussing social media. What makes it unique among the many other options out there is that it easily has the largest number of members (around 1.59 billion users worldwide) and percentage of usage (currently 20% of all internet time worldwide is spent on Facebook). It also is the most user-friendly for all age ranges.

Now I want to talk a little bit about what your church can do with Facebook.

The first thing you want to do on Facebook is set up a church page. This takes only a couple of minutes and regular upkeep is not going to require a lot of energy. Having a landing page for your church on Facebook is very important. Not only will it come up on folk’s Facebook searches it is also going to appear in Google’s search fields. So if for some reason your church does not have a website you can still have a free web-presence which is easily accessible. As an example if you go to Google right now and type in “Ellisville Presbyterian Church” the first two hits will be the church website and our Facebook page. You can put anything you want on your Facebook page, but something worth considering when using this platform is the ad option. I live in a lightly populated area with a local bi-weekly newspaper that has a subscriber base of around 7,500. Last time I checked a 3”x 3” advertisement on the Religion page that would run for two weeks would cost our church $150. As a comparison this past weekend our church placed an ad on Facebook that received 7,216 impressions (number of times the ad showed up in someone’s newsfeed), gave us 36 clicks to our website, and only cost $21.18. You do not need to be an accountant to see the cost benefits of using social media advertising over the traditional hardcopy. This form of marketing also replaces in large measure the time consuming methods of door-to-door hangers, mass mailings, and other things which are especially difficult for those of us in small churches to do. Our church was able to reach in a few days’ time seven thousand people in a ten-mile radius with only about fifteen minutes of time and energy. Now for those of you in much larger urban areas you will want to be a bit careful with this as Facebook advertising is pay-per-impression. Be watchful if you are in a center city location that you do not set your limits too broadly. A ten-mile radius around Ellisville only takes in 12,000 people, whereas ten-miles around Ebenezer ARP Church in Charlotte is going to be exponentially more and to be clear this is actually a good thing about Facebook ads. They can be micro-targeted based on age, location, pages liked, etc. Try doing that with a newspaper or magazine!

Another app that you may find useful is Instagram. Now, I am a bit new to this particular one, but what sets it apart is that it is photo-based. In other words the interactions you will have through it are going to be sharing pictures of church events, bulletins, etc. Instagram is great for synching with Facebook and other platforms in order to let others see the activities and fellowship going on within your congregation. Of the several social media outlets that are mentioned Instagram is probably the most-used by younger people. Part of this is tied into the immediacy of it and the simple interface. Like with Facebook the time requirements are minimal.

A site that you may have thought it strange that I have left out of the above discussion is Twitter. There is a reason for this. Twitter is not really suited for the kind of thing I have talked about in this article. First, any successful marketing on Twitter is only accomplished through costly promoted tweets and/or aggressive posting which really have more in common with old-fashioned cold-calling than the basic social media interaction that your average church can accommodate themselves to on a daily basis. Second, in talking about something unrelated directly with the subject at hand is the fact Twitter is a poorly run company. If you take a gander at their stock price over the past six months you will see what I mean. The reality is Twitter may soon go the way of MySpace, Digg, and other social media sites which have broken down by the side of the information superhighway. Its user numbers are cratering at the moment and with the introduction of what Twitter is calling a “Safety Council” which will monitor tweets and have the power to delete anything they find offensive the reality is this restriction is not going to be kind to orthodox Christianity. But to close on somewhat of a more positive note it would not be a complete waste of time for your church and/or pastor to maintain a Twitter handle to place basic information like links to sermons, etc. It is free, easy to use, and highly interactive.

There are several other sites you could consider using, like Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr, LinkedIn that I have not mentioned, primarily because they do not really lend themselves to the kind of advertising and marketing outreach in mind throughout this article. This being said it would be worthwhile to ask around your congregation and find someone who knows more about these activities than I do in order to receive local help in setting up sites for yourselves at all of the aforementioned social media outlets. There is no reason not to be engaged in these easy ways.

In closing, the surface has barely been scratched in considering social media and the Church. There is much more that could be said and explained both theologically and sociologically concerning this new way forward. While I noted above that things like Facebook ads can largely replace traditional methods of outreach it should not completely be substituted for them either. Nothing electronic can do what person-to-person conversation and real life interaction with human beings accomplishes in God’s mercy. My main purpose here was to introduce you to some helpful hints and to assuage any fear you might have about your ability to do these things. Being active on the internet in these days is not optional, yet it does not need to be expensive or difficult for those without experience and/or education in these areas. Be confident in your ability to do these minor and very helpful activities for your local church.

As I noted at the beginning, if I can do this, you can too.

 

Rev. Benjamin P. Glaser is the pastor, Ellisville Presbyterian Church in Ellisville, MS. He and his wife Brandy have four children and a wonderful dog named Lucy.

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Victory Assured from a Trustworthy Scripture

images-123Victory Assured from a Trustworthy Scripture

By: Jeff Kingswood

Next year, the year of our Lord 2017, should the Lord tarry, we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This movement turned the world upside down as the Word of God was rediscovered and human institutions and traditions were challenged and uprooted by the Holy Spirit empowering in an overwhelming way the preaching of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Time and again in history, God has poured out His Holy Spirit to empower His Church to preach the Word in a way that revived the Church, challenged unbelief, and transformed nations. Surely such a time of repentance, revival, and reformation is needed in the Western world.

In the books of Timothy and Titus the apostle Paul, by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, is giving young ministers the authoritative guidance that they need for ministry. And these letters, the Pastoral epistles, are the standard for Godly ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ. Here we have the roles of elders and deacons, the ministries of various other groups within the congregation, and the work of the minister, carefully laid out according to the mind of God. And as you read it you see that central to the task of the Church of Jesus Christ is the ministry of the Word of God.

The Lord, through the apostle, begins to encourage Timothy by reminding him that he is called to declare to the people under his care the truths of the Word of God with which Timothy has been acquainted since infancy. Since he was an infant Timothy sat under the ministry of the Word of God and so it ran through his blood so to speak. Timothy had experienced the life giving power of that Word which alone is able to show us salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

The reliability, the trustworthiness, the all encompassing authority of the Word of God is spelled out in verses 16 and 17 of 2 Timothy 3: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16,17 ESV)

There are many, many people outside of the church, but even inside it, who doubt that the Word of God is very helpful or true in all of its parts. After all it was written at least 2000 years ago, some parts of it 3500 years ago. Surely those people knew nothing of our culture and our problems. How can such an ancient word have anything to say to us? We respond by saying, “Yes, if this were the work of men you might be right. Things change and no man is wise enough to know what to say to future generations.” But to the critics of the Word of God we point out that God Himself is clear in saying that man is not the author of these 66 books. Yes, men penned the words, but the inspiration came from God Himself. God clearly says that His breath moved the writers to record what they did. There are at least twenty references to this inspiration of God recorded throughout the scriptures and the true Church has always believed what God has said concerning His Word. “I breathed it! I inspired it.”

All scripture is God inspired. We cannot pick and choose the parts we like and don’t like. God gives it to us as a whole and we do not sit in judgement on the Word of God. It judges us. It is all necessary to lead us to salvation and sanctification whether we find it comfortable or not. And when we submit ourselves to the whole counsel of the inspired Word we find the rest of verse 16 coming true as well.

God’s Word Teaches

Only God fully knows God. So how can we know God; how can we worship God; how can we know how we are to live? We turn to the Word of God where the infinite God teaches us finite creatures in terms that we may understand. So often people look critically at the Word but when we presume to sit in judgement on God’s self-revelation we are like arrogant and stupid children who refuse to learn because they think they know more than their parents. God tells us that He has given us this Word to teach us. To make us wise in the ways of God; His ways.

There is no situation in life in which we may find ourselves that is not somehow addressed by the Word of God. It teaches us who God is, who we are in relation to Him, sinners deserving of condemnation, and how we who are unholy may come to one who is Holy; only by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Reproof & Correct

The Word of God is useful for reproof. It corrects our errors, our arrogant assumptions, our misconceptions. We who are finite have a very limited perspective on who we are and how we are doing in life. The Word of God strips away false thinking, it reproves us; even rebukes us. When we think we are wonderful, God’s Word strips away our human pride and shows us that we are sinners, through and through, and that apart from God we can do nothing good or worthy of salvation. When we think we are worthless God’s Word shows us that we are objects of the love of God and that God has promised to purify and perfect the lives of His children. We have all sorts of wrong ideas in our heads about ourselves and our neighbours and God. And if we study the Word of God those ideas are reproved. We are put in our place by the Word of God. It strips away our fanciful illusions.

However, the Word does not only reprove, it also corrects. Having shown us our error the Word of God goes on to show us the truth. Our errors can be corrected. In God’s Word we may see who God is and who we are and that even though we are sinners and worthy of the fire of hell, God in His love provided an atonement for that sin. That for those whom God loves, Jesus Christ came to earth and died in our place. So we are corrected. Our wrong ideas of salvation reproved by the Word of God are corrected by the beautiful truth of the love of God in Jesus Christ.

God gives us His Word so that we may live a life that is pleasing to Him; that our life might be re-shaped, reformed. When we realize that we are sinful creatures, when our thoughts about life are reproved, God shows us Jesus Christ, the one who died for us, and then the Word of God shows us the life we are to be leading in order to give thanks to God. The Word reproves our error, corrects our thinking, and then trains us in righteousness. And so we are more and more reshaped, or reformed, according to God’s pattern for us.

How should someone who has been washed of their sins by Jesus’s blood on the cross live? How do we live in a world gone amok? How do we respond to the crisis of life? The Word of God trains us for righteousness. It shows us the way to live a life of thanksgiving that is pleasing to God. God gives us the Word so that we do not perish in sin but also so that we do not flounder despairing in our seeking after righteousness. We will be trained, reshaped, reformed, in God’s perfect way rather than our imperfect attempt if we adhere to the training manual.

And verse 17 contains a precious promise to those who are people of the Word. If we are a people of the Word who are taught, reproved, corrected and trained for righteousness than we will be equipped to do all that God asks of us. The good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do, as it says in Ephesians 2:10, will not be too hard for us. We will have been equipped by the Word of God to do them. To please God. Surely that is the goal of every faithful believer whose life has been reformed by Jesus Christ. The Word of God will reform the Church as it revives and reshapes the saints.

Rev. Jeff Kingswood is the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Woodstock, ON. He is the former moderator of Synod.

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Old Insights on the Community of the Cross

 

5c6bfbf7d028455a015e6033b28e1a3fOld Insights on the Community of the Cross

By: Bob Illman

I used to do some work with Peacemaker Ministries. The goal of Peacemakers is to help Christians resolve conflict. In many of our seminars, we started off the presentation projecting a slide that said, “Where two or three are gathered in His Name, there will be conflict!” The audience always responded with laughter that was combined with embarrassment. They knew it was true, and they knew that it was not good.

Why is it that we don’t find it easy to get along? Why does so much of the New Testament remind us that we are the family of God and should act like it? James says we have conflict because we want what gives us pleasure, not what is right or good for others. (James 4.1) Paul echoes this thinking as he reminds us of our inflated self-worth, but goes on to remind us that through the Cross of Christ, we are connected to one another for one another. (Romans 12:3-5) There was an old Corn Flakes commercial that invited us to “taste them again for the first time.” It is time to do that again with reconciliation.

Probably you have had someone ask you if you have a personal relationship with Christ. Have you ever been asked if you have a corporate relationship with Him? Let me be the first. Since the late 19th century, American Christianity has focused on our individual relationship to Christ, while our corporate or community relationship to one another has been pushed to the background. We sometimes reason that while we are personally at conflict with a brother or sister, or maybe our whole congregation, presbytery or denomination, we are still fine with God.

Friends, that contradicts God’s Word. In Ephesians 2, Paul explains to us that Christ’s work on the Cross was to reconcile us to God and at the same time, to reconcile us to one another. Any Gospel message that fails to include this second part of God’s plan is incomplete! God brought you into His family, and you are his child as one of many brothers and sisters. Parents expect peace in the household; God expects there to be peace in His household, which is the Church.

1 Corinthians 12

There are four things that I believe we need to rediscover about how God thinks of His Church, and about us as his family members. First, we need a crash course in I Corinthians 12. Are people in your church different from you? Good! We can’t all be noses. We need one another with our differences. Are all the people in your congregation as sanctified as you? No? Good! You have a job as a brother or sister who participates in mutual growth so that we grow from our unity in the Spirit into a unity of the faith. (Ephesians 4.3-13) Quit complaining that some are different or slow to learn and give yourself to them as a brother or sister. That is why Christ died for you and for them.

Build Others Up

Second, we need to understand that as fellow members of the household of God, brothers and sisters have the right to be treated as you would treat Jesus. It doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree, or point out areas of concern, but you need to do so as a loving relative, “[speaking] only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4.29) Too often we vent our anger on others so we will feel better. If you watched any of the recent Republican Presidential Debates, you know how ridiculous and ugly the back biting and insults appeared. Unfortunately, Christians at congregational, presbytery or even General Synod meetings can look just as ugly. Brothers and sisters, remember the work of the Cross. We would not act this way if we remembered why Jesus died.

Honor His People

Third, we need to honor God’s work through the Cross by honoring His people. He puts us in congregations to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. But, He promises to work in us for His good pleasure! (Philippians 2.12 -13) Today, too many people move from congregation to congregation, or denomination to denomination, simply because they won’t work out their salvation with a trust in God to be working in them. Got a problem? Take the easy way out and leave? Is that what Paul did when he saw problems in the church at Corinth? Of course not. He valued the work of Christ on the Cross. He even valued those who were in the wrong. He didn’t abandon them. He knew that Christ saw our reconciliation to God and our reconciliation to one another as His mission on the Cross.

Our Witness

Finally, consider our witness. Rediscover the horizontal reconciliation in the Cross. How can we leave out this part of the Gospel and claim to be doing evangelism? Jesus prayed, May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17.23b) It is our joy to tell others about God reconciling us to Himself, and then to be able to bring them into churches where they see both the vertical and horizontal reconciliation celebrated. It has always been God’s plan. Taste it again for the first time!

Bob retired this past year from serving as Pastor of Connections Presbyterian Church in Madison, AL. He and Sally now live in Eureka, California, where he serves as a Hospice Chaplain. He remains active in the Tennessee-Alabama Presbytery.

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Insight for Staying on the Ancient Path

images-87      As I come to write my last article as Moderator, I must give thanks to God and the Church for the pleasant experience of serving as Moderator. My appreciation for things in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has been enhanced. I desire to thank the others who have written articles to flesh out the theme of this year. Further, I would thank those who have read the articles. I pray they have been profitable and stimulating. Then, I was buoyed along by those who have written notes or called me to comment on the articles. Thanks to all.

The theme for our General Synod this year has been “Fresh Insight from Ancient Paths” from Jeremiah 6:16. In the six months that articles have been published, we have offered insight at important points. Affirming ancient truths, we have sought to explore insight for our current circumstances in ministry.

George Barna has suggested that the “church” or “religion” has lost its integrity because it has conformed with today’s culture. Ministers are found in immoral relationships and churches experience financial fraud. Church members in our culture do not seem to think that the church should hold them to any moral standard. Denominations are in conflict. The lack of integrity in the church has weakened our witness. Truth is a casualty.

Given this common perception of a lack of integrity, we are left finally, and only, with the instruction in truth of the Word of God. The Bible is our friend. The Bible is our safety. The Bible, God has promised to bless. The Westminster Confession of Faith says it well: “… therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times and in diverse manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;…” (WCF, I, 1)

Without doubt, the Church is stressed; denominations, including our own, have had conflicts. What can we do? We must rally around the Bible and be controlled by its plain statement of truth. The Westminster divines, 400 years ago, recognized the Church’s need of “establishment and comfort.” These are our needs today. Our enemies are all the same, “corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world.”

The world is hostile to our commitments and truth claims. The flesh is our effort to wage a spiritual war with weapons of our own making. We are tempted to a methodology of trendy and popular appeal. We covet the success of fashionable churches with a compromised message. And the Devil uses our weakness of flesh and the world’s excitement to undermine wise and faithful ministry. What shall we do? We must turn to the Bible for “establishment and comfort.”

Long ago God knew the challenges we would face today. He gave us the Bible. The Westminster divines knew the challenges we would face and told us where to look. The “establishment and comfort of the church” is in submission to the truth declared in the Bible. It is the duty of the church to hold to the Bible.

May God the Holy Spirit “establish and comfort” the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and bless it as we affirm that “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.”(WCF I, 5)

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Mississippi Valley Presbytery 2016 Spring

Mississippi Valley Presbytery 2016 Spring Highlights

The Spring 2016 Meeting of Mississippi Valley Presbytery was held at the Hopewell

Presbyterian Church in New Albany, Mississippi on March 7-8, 2016. Some highlights of

the meeting:

  • Heard sermons from Rev. Randy Kolb (stated supply pastor at Hopewell) and

Rev. Mark Miller (pastor of the New Albany Presbyterian Church)

  • Heard a report from the Dunlap Commission along with news that the Dunlap

Retirement Center property might be sold as early as the end of March

  • Heard a report on stated supply pastors from a special moderator’s committee
  • Heard the retiring Moderator’s address from Rev. Alex Coblentz, pastor of the

French Camp Presbyterian Church

  • Welcomed new Moderator of Presbytery Mr. Charles Browning, an elder at the

Hopewell Presbyterian Church

  • Heard a presentation from Mr. Steve Nichols about the ARP Foundation
  • Granted the Minister and His Work Committee the ability to act as a commission

in situations that involve conflict in the local church

  • Heard an encouraging report from the ONA Committee concerning church

planting efforts in Little Rock, Arkansas and Murray, Kentucky

  • Heard a brief report from Rev. Howard Wheeler on the health and well-being of

Rev. Nale Falls, retired ARP minister, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday

  • Heard a brief announcement about the upcoming 150th anniversary celebration of

the Richland Presbyterian Church in Millington, Tennessee. Richland will also be

hosting the Fall 2016 meeting of MVP.

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Catawba Presbytery Spring 2016

Catawba Presbytery 2016 Spring Highlights

The following occurred at the meeting of Catawba Presbytery held at the Effingham ARP Church, Effingham, SC:

  • Removed the name of student Martin Cramer from the rolls effective March 8, 2016
  • Received Jeremiah A. Thomas as a licentiate from Tennessee Alabama Presbytery effective March 8, 2016.
  • Granted retirement to Denny H. Hieber effective November 1, 2015.
  • Approved the organization of the Hill City Mission as a Church on April 3, 2016.  The service will be conducted by a Commission of the Presbytery
  • Approved the call from Hill City for Daniel F. Wells to begin April 3, 2016.  He will also be installed that same day.
  • Approved the call from Grace Church for Jeremiah A. Thomas as associate at Grace Church.  He will be ordained and installed at a Called Meeting of Presbytery on April 10, 2016.
  • Received James C. Robbins as a student of theology.  James is a Middler at RTS-Charlotte and a member of the Ebenezer Church.
  • Received Charles J. Phillips as a student of theology.  Charlie is a Middler at RTS-Charlotte and a member of Shem Creek Church.
  • Received Andrew K. Arrington as a Chaplain.  Drew is received as a Chaplain effective March 8, 2016 from the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Received the Presbytery and Synod reports from all 49 congregations and approved forwarding the information to General Synod.
  • Heard the Middler Sermon of James C. Robbins
  • Elected Alan J. Broyles as Moderator to begin serving July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017.
  • Elected L. Charles Hammond as Vice Moderator/Moderator-elect.  His terms as Moderator will be July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018.
  • Alan A. Morrow presided as Moderator for this meeting
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A Biblical Response to Islamic Violence and Muslims

By: Mark Judson and Gus Taylor (Pseudonyms used for protection)

images-120As mission leaders, we can influence the response of our fellow Christians to escalating Muslim violence and to the growing presence of Muslims among us in the United States, Canada and around the globe. Biblical responses will open up to us doors of opportunity to identify with Jesus and to follow Him in ways that fear, anger, isolation, and suspicion may be preventing.

 

The Lord of the Harvest is sovereignly at work in the hearts of Muslims worldwide, calling them to Himself and giving them faith in His Son. “One of the greatest recurring motivations for Muslims coming to Christ is a rejection of the militant expression of Islam itself.” However, many Christians are unaware of this great work of God. Instead, the enemy of our souls uses another message to keep us from contact with – and witness to – Muslims.

 

Sound Bites

We’ve all heard the sound bites “Islam is a religion of peach.” “Our religion has been hijacked.” “Muslims are peaceful people.”

Muslim disavowals of terrorism and violence often seem hollow and off topic, if not inflammatory. A Muslim-sponsored event title “Should We Fear Islam?” begs the question, claiming “to call ISIS Islamic is like saying the KKK is Christian because it uses Christian symbols – burning crosses – and cherry-picked Bible verses to justify its violence and hate.”

And we have heard the demographic sound bites: “The fastest growing religion”; “In a matter of years, Europe, as we know it, will cease to exist.”

 

Natural Responses

What’s your gut reaction, the feelings, the words? Where does the barrage of violence, bad news, claims, and counter-claims take your mind and heart? Anger? Fear? Avoidance? Confrontation?

As “informed” citizens, we feel a responsibility to make value judgments about the news we hear. We have plenty of reason to be concerned about the safety and future of our nation.

What about as citizens of God’s Kingdom? How are we to navigate the news flashes, the discussions and commentaries, the seminars of the danger of Islam, our own fears and emotional turmoil over graphic videos of violence committed in the name of Islam? And alongside our raw emotions, how are we to navigate the way of the gospel, the way of our Savior, our call to discipleship and disciple-making?

All of us have probably heard the more extreme responses to Islam and Muslims, like, “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim!” While we may agree that they don’t sound like things Jesus would say, there is still a huge amount of fear and apprehension about Muslims. A prominent outcome of our fear and anger is a reluctance to reach out to Muslims with the gospel.

 

A Question of Authorityimages-121

Do we filter our news sources, or do we simply allow the media to influence us without question or clarification? Are we subject to a kind of naivety that views all Muslim as potentially violent, or to an equally naïve acceptance of Muslims’ claims that true Islam is “a religion of peace”?

What “authority” do we allow to determine our attitudes and actions? We are inundated with a lot of informed people giving their studied opinions about Islam and with a range of Muslim ideologies. Are we, as disciples of Christ, more interested in those opinions than in Jesus’ call on our lives to disciple the nations? Do we, the Church, allow our attitudes, and even our actions, to be ordered by current expert opinion and debate?

Another way to ask this is, “How much does the Bible really inform our theology, and our practice?” We who are otherwise clearly committed to biblical truth need to ask to what extent we are willing to follow Jesus’ teaching and other teaching in the Bible about how to relate to the lost, to the nations, and even to those who are considered enemies. Is it truly the Bible, or is it our human sense of a need for security, that informs our beliefs and practice?

 

Us and Them

So what do we do with the unbroken and tangled stream of “incoming” information about violence, Muslims, and Islam?

Our responses are often structured in a ”we”-“they” form, where “they” is Islam, and so, by association to some degree or another, all Muslims, “We” is all of “us” who are not part of “they”, in which we conflate our national and our Christian citizenships. In doing so we can easily let the safety and security concerns that trigger much of the “incoming” information dominate our view, diverting us from the biblical promises and mandates that should be informing our processing of incoming information. We find it easier to speak to the concerns of state than to the state of our concern for the proper roles of the Church and the gospel.

 

Overcoming Our Fears

Since 9/11, many churches, rightly looking for alternative sources of information, have been clamoring for presentations about Islam and Muslims. Ignorance, confusion, silence, and lack of awareness perpetuate fear and our unbiblical avoidance or ignoring of Muslims that is so prevalent among us. But awareness and information about Islam and Muslims are not the antidotes for fear. In fact, there is a whole stream of information, much of it “true”, that will affirm and even increase fear, anger, and resentment. This kind of true information about current and historical Islam is designed to discredit and dismantle the doctrines and beliefs of Islam. The underlying assumption is that this will simultaneously bolster and preserve the beliefs and doctrinal integrity of the Christian listener.

Consider the parallel to an American missionary family living in a “Muslim” city where shootings, carjacking, and bombings are commonplace. What if fear were allowed to rule? What if the real and true accounts of the day’s murders, carjackings, and bombs isolate the family from the 99.9% of the city not directly impacted or involved? Would they ever accomplish their calling? Would they ever experience the hospitality, kindness, friendship, and openness of so many among the 99.9%? Would the 99.9% ever consider the gospel?

Isolation is exactly what has been happenings to so many people in the Church, especially in the West. We have “stayed in the house,” fearful of going out to live life normally, and have allowed our fear of violent Muslims to dictate our view of Muslims in general. The result is a discipleship that looks very different from the bold, courageous, love empowered walk of faith that our Master calls us to live out among the nations. John tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18, ESV). How will the love of God be manifested in our prayers for Muslims, among whom God has His own elect people, who will be counted with us around the throne of God, with people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9, ESV)? Will not our prayers for Muslims transform our fearful hearts toward them and give us new energy in walking with our Savior into new paths among people we have neglected to include in the gospel?

What kind of courage did Jesus require of His disciples? He told them, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV). Jesus’ first disciples were very aware of the dangers associated with following Him. Our secure and tolerant culture has dulled our memory of those dangers.

images-118

Cracking Open Islam

What does it take to follow Jesus, knowing that true commitment to Christ could cost us all we have, including our lives, as our brothers and sisters in Muslim lands have learned through hard experience? It takes real, vibrant faith to follow Jesus with a cross on our shoulders. What does it take for Islam to give way to the truth that this kind of faith embraces?

We are already seeing some of the wonderful works that God is bringing out of the most gruesome violence of ISIS. In the first week after the beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians by the sea in Libya, a record-breaking 1.65 million copies of “Two Rows by the Sea”, a Christian tract of relevant Bible verses, were distributed to Muslims and Christian alike in Egypt.

Iran is another shining example, though many are unaware of what God does when men take a religious and political system to its logical extreme: people get very fed up with the system and their hearts are opened up to spiritual realities and to the search for truth. The nightly news, or the hourly news app, will not tell you that Iranians are coming to faith in Christ all over the world in ways a very precious few did before the Iranian Revolution.

In our angry awareness of violent Muslims, we are increasingly willing to stand with our brethren in the Middle East. Are we prepared to stand with them in faith that God will crack open the very force that threatens their lives and move Muslim hearts to call on Jesus as Savior? This has begun to happen, even as some young people in Istanbul, Turkey are forsaking Islam and embracing Jesus’ good news, clearly crediting current violent acts by Muslim terrorists as their reason for leaving their inherited faith.

 

Islam and the Great Commission

images-119Does it matter whether or not “Islam is a religion of peace?” What does the answer have to do with Jesus’ call to discipleship? We are tempted to say, “If it is a religion of peace, I can talk to Muslims, witness to them, and include them in the gospel.” But what if we conclude that although the vast majority of Muslims are people just like us, who make life decisions based on what is best for their family, what will best guarantee their health and safety and a good education and future for their children, the evidence still points to an undeniable violence inherent in Islam? Will we then say we don’t need to talk to Muslims, share the love and truth of Christ with them, or include them in our missions endeavors? Will we, in our practice, if not in our speech, reword Jesus’ Great Commission so that it says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all peaceful nations” (Matthew 28:19, ESV)?

Perhaps the biggest irony in all this is that if we hold on to the view that all Muslims are potential terrorists, and that we have no reason to engage them in relationship, we will actually contribute to the slow decline and weakening of the Church. The Church in retreat is the Church loosening its grip on faith, on power in witness, and even on relevance to the society around us.

 

Service to Christ

The only biblical place to end up is in a posture of repentance toward our Lord Jesus Christ for the sins of fear, apathy, and love of life and limb that have kept us from obedience to His unqualified command to call all nations, all people groups, to faith in Him. The heart attitude becoming of true followers of Jesus is a generosity which mirrors Jesus’ words when He said, “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8b, ESV). We are called to adopt the servanthood of Jesus who told us, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many: (Mark 10:45, ESV). The only position that is consistent with the whole body of revealed truth we are given in the Scriptures is one of the renewed – and new – commitment, in whatever way Jesus calls us, to enrolling in His global team of workers who are sent out in His unlimited authority to disciple the nations for His glory. If loving Muslims enough to get close to them for the sake of the gospel seems strange to us, it is not at all out of place in Jesus’ thinking. He included Muslims in His atoning work on the cross and in His Great Commission. We must include them in our own response of obedience and sacrifice.

 

Loving Muslims

images-117How do we do this? Currently 60% of Muslims in America were born outside the United States. The opportunities to welcome them and help them adjust to life here are endless. Refugees, international students, and immigrants respond very well to our friendship, help with learning English, getting around, getting settled, and navigating new and bewildering ways of doing things. This could be as simple as applying for a library card or a driver’s license. It could be giving an hour a week to an Arab student who needs practice speaking the English language. Maybe it’s just giving a newcomer from the Muslim world a ride to Wal-Mart for shopping, or loading a sofa on a pickup truck to help move a refugee family into an apartment.

The second-generation Muslims who are born here will vastly outnumber immigrants and international students within a very short time. They experience identity tensions, being caught between their parents’ culture and the culture of North America, but are able to reason in ways their parents have a very hard time doing. This often gives them the ability to consider the evidence for the gospel. We can meet them at mosques, on university campuses, among other parents at PTO meetings, or among our colleagues at work. They are not expecting us to reach out to them or befriend them. Doing this often surprises them and builds a bridge for friendship and the gospel.

Many thousands of Muslims in North America are deeply disturbed by the same images of Islamic violence that we see. The obvious contrast to the words and ways of Jesus and the good news of the gospel open a door for our loving and humble witness to them.

Let us dare to see the harvest Jesus sees when He looks at the masses of lost humanity, and ask in all sincerity, “How and where does the Lord of the harvest want me to serve Him?

 

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Highlands 125th Anniversary

0116 nib highlandsOn Sunday, October 25, 2015 Highlands Presbyterian Church of Grayson, GA celebrated its 125th Anniversary. Members and former members were recognized for the length of time of their connection with Highlands Church (formerly First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Atlanta). Emilie Cole Wingfield, 94 years old, was recognized as the oldest lifelong member of Highland. In attendance, Emilie had four generations of her family who have been members of Highlands. Emilie’s Parents and Grandparents were also members making the youngest members sixth generation of Highlands. Emilie’s youngest Great Granddaughter, 9 days old, Rachel Katherine McCoy is the daughter of Grandson Chris and Michelle Hornby McCoy. Chris is serving as Youth Pastor of Highlands.

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First Presbytery Fall Meeting

Met in the beautiful new facility of Christ Church (Denver, NC).

• Mr. Adam Bloom, retiring vice-moderator and elder from Christ Church, welcomed the court. The church members provided wonderful hospitality for the delegates.

• Retiring moderator Rev. Bill Marsh led the opening service of worship including the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. An offering was taken for the Presbytery benevolence fund followed by a time of prayer for needs in the Presbytery.

• The moderator-elect, Mr. Anthony Navarro (Huntersville ARP), and vice-moderator elect Rev. Nick Napier (Boyce Memorial), led the new business.

• A matter of concern from the Coddle Creek church was referred to a Moderator’s Committee.

• Another matter in regard to the Lakeside church was referred to a Judicial Commission to be appointed by the Moderator. A request from the Chalmers Memorial church to change its name to Starmount ARP Church was approved.

• A motion to increase the per member assessment for the Presbytery by $0.50 was approved for 2016.

• Memorials for recently deceased members of the Presbytery, Revs. Lionel Morgan, John Hill, and Bob Murdock, were approved and will be sent on to the General Synod.

• Prior to lunch, the court heard brief reports from Dr. Chris Wisdom of Erskine Theological Seminary, Mr. Alex Pettett of World Witness, and Rev. Jamie Hunt, Moderator of the General Synod.

• After lunch, student Zack Keuthan (RTSCharlotte) delivered his senior sermon. Standing committee reports were then presented.

• Candidates & Examinations presented Rev. Andrew Shoger to be examined for transfer from Florida Presbytery to receive a call from the Coddle Creek church. Two new students, Chad McKinnon & Keith Rose (both at RTS-Charlotte) were taken under care.

• Church Extension recommended an additional year of funding for the City Church in Asheville. The court heard from the mission developer, Rev. Duff James, about encouraging progress at the mission. The motion was approved.

• Minister & His Work reported the dissolution of the pastoral relationship of Rev. Bill Marsh from Christ Covenant Church in Greensboro. The ordination service of Mr. John Lehner, missionary candidate to Spain, was also reported. A motion from the floor to increase the mileage reimbursement rate for committee members was referred to the Stewardship Committee.

• Theological & Social Concerns did not yet have a report on the issue of subscription to the Confession.

• In the World Witness Committee report, funding was approved for a limited number of students to attend the Urbana Missions Conference this December.

• The court adjourned at about 4 PM after singing the Psalm of Christian Unity. The next meeting of First Presbytery will be on Tuesday, January 26, 2016, at the New Sterling Church.

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Catawba Presbytery Fall Meeting

Met on October 13, 2015 at the Edwards Memorial Church. The following is information from that meeting:

• Received Blake T. Law as a Licentiate from First Presbytery effective October 13, 2015.

• Ordained Blake T. Law as a Minister of the Gospel effective October 13, 2015.

• Approved the call from the Calhoun Church for Blake T. Law and presented the call to him to begin October 15.

• Appointed a Commission to install Blake T. Law as pastor at the Calhoun Church on October 16, 2015.

• Appointed a Commission to install Matthew Allison as pastor of Ebenezer Church on October 18, 2015.

• Heard the Senior sermon and examined Joseph M. Crump for licensure and ordination. He was enrolled as a licentiate October 13, 2015.

• Received Joshua W. Thomas as a student of theology effective October 13, 2015. He is a member of Edwards Memorial.

• Read the Call approved by the Commission for Heiko Burklin from World Witness beginning August 1, 2015.

• At the direction of our Commission, transferred Zachery W. Simmons as a student of theology to Florida Presbytery effective October 13, 2015.

• Heard the Middler sermon of Andrew Di Iulio

• Set the Presbytery Assessment for 2016 at $15.00 per member.

• Directed the Moderator to appoint a special committee to engage and assist declining churches in Catawba Presbytery. The Committee is to give progress reports at the March and October meetings of Presbytery.

• Alan A. Morrow presided as moderator.

• Heard a special announcement of the Good Samaritan Offering being received by General Synod for the purpose of aiding those in South Carolina with disaster relief.

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